Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Strategy

You may have noticed Tea Party candidates upsetting conventional establishment Republican candidates, but did you realize that that was the accidental byproduct of Obama administration strategy?

Some explanation, of course, is required: remember back, oh a year ago, when Obama randomly went and started attacking Rush Limbaugh? At the time some people thought this was a strange strategy—why is the President debating a talk show host? was the conventional question—but it turns out that what the strategy had in mind was a situation not entirely dissimilar to the one we find itself in now.

The idea was that Republicans have had, for some time now, a cleavage between a demanding base and a slightly-less-enthusiastic establishment. In the past, the Republican establishment usually put up token efforts at resisting the base, and then usually caved in—or tried to throw it symbolic presents, etc. But the Republican base has always been suspicious of the politicians they’ve elected and have always tried to keep a tight leash on them. Obama attacking Rush Limbaugh, then, was a strategy to make it not about Republican politicians v. Obama, but rather Republican base v. Obama. The base always wanted an all-out attack strategy on Obama, and that’s what it’s gotten—it’s just Beck instead of Limbaugh leading the charge, and I’m not sure the Obama political team minds that much.

As it happens, this is a fine strategy—if you’re Obama or a Democratic politician; if you care about the Democratic Party as an abstraction or the country generally, it’s a considerably more risky strategy.

Very simple explanation, with concrete example: so one of the big upsets was in the Delaware race, in which Christine O’Donnell beat the establishment choice, Mike Castle. I can confidently call her a bit loose with the facts and what have you, since even Karl Rove thinks she’s crazy (for the complete Christine O’Donnell files, TPM has an excellent compendium). So Christine O’Donnell is too crazy to do a good job, but unfortunately only maybe too crazy to get elected. Which are the dangers of making it you v. the extremists on the other side—sometimes the voters will call your bluff and elect the crazy person, and that’s when stuff like President Palin and Vice President Jan Brewer happens, which is terrible. On the other hand, it’s great for Obama—Palin/Brewer is the weakest plausible opponents for Obama that I can think of off of the top of my head; just as it’s great for Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons, who has a pretty good chance of becoming Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) in one of the most hostile electoral environments for Democrats in a good long time. It’s just that the downside of Sen. O’Donnell (R-DE) or Pres. Palin is really, really bad for the country.

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